|Dates||Nov. 26, 1977 -
Dec. 17, 1977
With Tom Baker, Louise Jameson,
and John Leeson as the voice of "K9".
Written and script-edited by Robert Holmes.
Directed by Pennant Roberts. Produced by Graham Williams.
|Synopsis: A ruthless company exploits the planet and colonists of Pluto, both socially and economically, to the point of rebellion.|
Classic Doctor Who by Tom May 4/2/98
"Perhaps everyone runs from the Taxman!"
I first viewed this Season fifteen tale last July on satellite channel UK Gold, and I was impressed by the styling of The Sunmakers. Written by Robert Holmes, it is a thoroughly witty satire on taxation in 1970's Britain. The main adjectives that come to mind when watching this are: entertaining, well-structured and concise. If The Sunmakers had been made with Douglas Adams as Script Editor, it may just have been on the wrong side of believable.
The acting is uniformly high, with Richard Leech and Henry Woolf outstanding as the bureaucratic villains of the piece. Leech's performance of Hade is wonderfully smug and rounded, worthy of much praise. Tom Baker is again masterful as the Doctor, towering, formidable, cracking jokes and skillfully unravelling the situation. The story is pretty unique really, the only comparison is The Pirate Planet, which has a similarly vintage feel to it.
I also enjoyed the subtleties of the character of Marn, Hade's lieutenant, but I wasn't overly enthuisiastic about the less-than-wholseome underground dwellers. Citizen Cordo is a nicely hapless figure, just right for this story, and the opening scenes showing Gatherer Hade enforcing taxes on Cordo for his father's death neatly sums The Sunmakers up.
I recommend this one very highly (and all of the Tom Baker era, incidentally), because it's both a partially serious, underplayed satire populated by great characters and, above all, it's fun. 8.5/10
Into every life a little rain must fall by Michael Hickerson 28/7/98
When I think of the "classic" stories that Robert Holmes produced during his long tenure as a Doctor Who writer certain stories spring to mind--Talons of Weing-Chiang, Caves of Androzani, Spearhead from Space, Ark in Space.
But why not The Sunmakers?
Certainly, it's one of, if not the best story to come out of season fifteen. But then, when you consider that season fifteen gaves us Underworld and The Invisible Enemy, that's not really saying much.
But why doesn't it rate higher marks or a greater estimation? Probably because it's a largely forgettable story. There are the standard Who elements thrown in here for good measure such as the Doctor helping inspire rebellion and the overthrow of a totalitarian regime and running up and down coridors. And while Sunmakers does try to make a broader statement about the beaucratic systems gone awry, it never quite succeeds.
Part of the problem is that the story lacks the usual focus Robert Holmes brings to Who scripts. The empahasis is placed on creating the regime and world of Pluto instead of giving us interesting character that we actually care about and are interested to see whether they will live or die. Holmes' usual strength is giving us a supporting cast that has a great deal of depth and demands your attention. Not so here. The supporting players are largely forgettable, dwarfed by the Doctor's enimagic presense and Leela's constant derision. The rebels are so dull that the only way you can tell them apart is they all dress a bit differently.
So, what is is about The Sunmakers that works?
Well, for the first time in several stories, the Doctor/Leela relationship works extremely well. Leela serves as good foil to the fourth Doctor's brashness and extreme self-confidence. One of the more memorable sequences occurs early in episode one when Leela encourages the Doctor to run from the Gatherers.
The other part that works is that Holmes gives the viewer a good bit of social satire. Doctor Who usually succeeds at doing this with great panache and it's done pretty well here. The society depicted isn't quite as horrible as the one seen in The Happiness Patrol, but it still succeeds in being interesting. However, whereas The Happiness Patrol as the deliciously over-the-top and chilling KandyMan, The Sunmakers has only the greedy Collector who sits slug-like, like a spider in his web. His confrontation with the Doctor is interesting, but not on the same level as the converations the seventh Doctor has with the KandyMan.
Overall, The Sunmakers is a story of contrasts. It's got an interesting premise, a well drawn society, and some good Doctor/companion interplay. What it lacks are well drawn supporting characters and a plot that doesn't hinge on the Doctor starting a rebellion in a short amount of time.
It's a Robert Holmes story, but if you want Holmes at his best, go for Caves of Androzani.
A Forgotten Classic by Leo Vance 9/77/98
Rarely mentioned as a classic, it is in fact one of Robert Holmes' best (I haven't seen The Caves of Androzani yet, so I won't say any more).
On the good side, you have first and foremost the script. Abandoning the horror style which ran from Genesis of the Daleks to The Deadly Assassin had been difficult, with Robots of Death, Horror of Fang Rock and Image of the Fendahl all harking back to Seasons Thirteen and Fourteen (the first half). But with The Sunmakers, the series entered a new era.
As important in its own way as Spearhead from Space and The Leisure Hive, The Sunmakers is also superb. A true classic, the script is filled with great moments. Next on the list is K9. This is the only K9 video I have, and it fulfils my memories of him. He is a superb character, a good follow up for D84. Tom Baker couldn't be better, and it's really impossible not to enjoy watching Louise Jameson. The inhabitants are good too, though the people who live underground fail to be very interesting. Cordo is the best character, and the scene in the interrogation room, where the Doctor 'goes for a little hop. Good for the circulation' is magnificent. The Collector is utterly brilliant, the Gatherer is just as good, Marn can't be criticized, and hilariously 'elects to join the revolution' near the end. The sets and locations, the direction and the effects are all good. The costumes are a special treat, in particular that of the Gatherer, and the idea of the Usurian works very well.
Brilliant! Utterly brilliant! Nothing wrong at all! 10/10
The Plot Makers by Mike Jenkins 29/10/01
This story exploits humorous potential, but too much time is given to the plot and not enough to the story. The plot makers is what they should've called it. It seemed Holmes is working towards something he doesn't quite achieve until the very end and while this is one of the better scripts we'll see from him in a while (I think he started to lose his edge after the Petwee days) and there are some wonderfully witty ideas and satire, they could've have been wackier, better executed, and story could've have generally had a less ridgid feel to it. It seems as though everything is chopped into little sections.
In short, it really neaded to be longer (what?). Yes, I know this is a strange thing to say about Doctor Who but if that's what Holmes needed to make the story clear that's what he should've done. He certainly didn't bother to chop anything up in The Trial of a Timelord. Every minute detail was told in that story. And while that saga is seemingly less enjoyable then this one, such a liberty could've been put to good use. I'm the first one to enjoy good Doctor Who humor but this is one of the few times it gets a bit repetitive (Taxes suck, we got it!!!). It's funny but it gets predictable. A solid 7/10 but if you want a classic Holmes story, watch Carnival of Monsters.
Stuff the Company! by Jason A. Miller 30/11/01
It wasn't an auspicious 38th anniversary of Doctor Who at first. I read 40 pages of Vanishing Point during an uncomfortable car ride home from New Jersey after Thanksgiving with the relatives. Noted that the McGann portrayal was very Tom Baker-ish. At home, after a meal of leftovers and feeling too sluggish to hook up the DVD player, I rooted around in my mildewed stack of DW in search of some frothy Tom Baker-ish video to watch. Out came The Sun Makers, my 10 year-old PBS off-air copy. For some reason, on the same tape as Paul Simon's 1991 Central Park concert. Not tonight, Paulie.
I enjoyed Sun Makers so much that I just might make this 38th anniversary an annual event. Oh, where to begin... first of all, Tom Baker is at his hammy-voiced, stumbling best. He's loud and goofy in his interview with Gatherer Hade, yet brings out the menace when threatening the Undercity hoodlums three minutes later. I enjoy the way he hops around the Correction Center in straitjacket and funny helmet, sabotaging equipment and leaving jelly babies for men who don't have the arms to eat them.
It's hard not to stand up and cheer when Leela, too, threatens the Undercity hoodlums. And yet she's also compassionate to the hapless Cordo and makes a terrific show of concentrating when K-9's trying to teach her chess. I love when dramatic players act their socks off in funny stories and tonight I love Louise Jameson.
Other acting performances aren't as bad as the story's 1977 vintage would lead you to beleive. Try saying with a straight face that Henry Woolf's Collector didn't, on some level, inspire Mini-Me. Richard Leetch's Gatherer Hade has a voice made for a tax comedy, and while Jonina Scott's Marn gets nothing but exposition to feed the Gatherer, she's got enough glances, murderous stares, and smirks to feed a whole army of court clerks for eleven years. Judging from the paucity of Ms. Scott's resume on the Internet Movie Database I'm sad to assume that she never used that repertoire anywhere else.
The rest of this story's triumph is all down to Bob Holmes. Judging from earlier reviews on this page, some DW audience members don't like broad satire. Others are merely frustrated with DW's inherent limitations: funny costumes, improbable sets (half of Sun Makers evidently takes place deep inside the Invasion of Time-vintage TARDIS) and crummy actors (did I mention Undercity hoodlums)?
But Holmes's genius was to invent whole societies with a few strokes of the pen. We learn lots about the history of Pluto -- and never in a data dump. The information is given a bit at a time, in anecdotes and sly asides (The Doctor to Hade: "I often wonder, why DID our ancestors leave Old Earth?"). We learn of Gatherer Pyle, and Morton's Fork, and all those Wurgs and Keeks, and poor old Citizen Kandor. It may be mostly empty corridors and wobbly sets, but Robert Holmes's Pluto is a living, breathing colony in space.
There are some nice directorial flourishes from Pennant Roberts, stuck as he is in a story that takes place in drab buildings and factories. When the pipes are about to explode and a character announces 10 seconds to the cliffhanger, Roberts actually gives us 10 seconds.
The tax satire may be a little obvious in The Sun Makers and it may lack the all-pervading menace of other Holmes stories (or the apocalyptic gloom of 98% of the 8th Doctor novels). And yet, like satirical froth such as the movies "The Naked Gun" and "Office Space", The Sun Makers manages to be out-and-out hilarious, yet believable and engrossing, all at once. Here's to watching this one on many more November 23rds. And if you want a classic Holmes story... watch The Sun Makers.
Collectors Item by Andrew Wixon 28/2/02
The Sun Makers is Doctor Who at its most formulaic. An odd comment to make about a series without a particular formula as such, but consider: the TARDIS lands on a planet inhabited by oppressed multitudes. The Doctor hooks up with the local rebels and (barely breaking a sweat in the process) knocks over the local government, thus paving the way for a cleaner, fairer society to be born. It's The Happiness Patrol, it's State of Decay, it's The Pirate Planet. It's not the sort of thing you'd necessarily associate the wonderful Robert Holmes with. (It's also rather like Blake's 7, an impression that Michael Keating's appearance in the story only goes to reinforce.)
Two things really give this story its distinctiveness (such as it is). The first of these is the tax angle - the fact that this is economic slavery rather than the military kind is really a case of splitting hairs, but it gives the story some room for maneuver and allows Holmes to indulge in a few good gags. The comedy content is the other thing that's memorable about the story, it's one of the first tales to really feature the jokey approach that the Williams era, for good or ill, is memorable for. For a change, there are some really quite subtle gags in amongst the tax in-jokes and pratfalls - only very recently, for example, did I figure out just why the story's set on Pluto (ie, the society is a plutocracy). Unfortunately this subtlety of approach is not reflected by certain of the guest performances - Richard Leech and Henry Woolf attack their roles with a jawdropping bravado and manage the rare feat of making Tom Baker's performance look subtly underplayed.
This, ahem, broad approach to things is also to be found in the rather blandly generic costume and set designs, and the performances of the rebel actors (Cordo and Bisham remain extremely unlikely revolutionaries). The locations are remarkable, though, and are a definite plus to the production. This is a reasonable enough Williams-era story, but it shows that Robert Holmes was starting to lose interest in the series - and signals the continuing decline of the series into a jokey, knockabout space opera. Not bad by any means, but it's completely run out of new ideas well before the closing credits of episode four.
Death and Taxes by Mike Morris 30/8/02
Some stories don't have the reputation they deserve. The Sun Makers, I might venture, is one of these. It's often seen as some kind of "filler" story, an inconsequential little thing lurking away in the middle of Season Fifteen. Few good jokes, nice, nothing to get worked up about though.
No, no, no. The Sunmakers is not a thing to be neglected. It is, rather, a thing to be reviled. For it is utter garbage. Quite why stories like Paradise Towers, with a genuinely thoughtful script hiding behind the cartoon-like exterior, get rubbished by so many people when this cosy, toothless feast of ham acting and hideous orange chipboard gets some merry smiles is utterly beyond me. Well actually, it's not. It's because Robert Holmes wrote The Sun Makers. So what, is how I'd reply to that. This self-indulgent twaddle is the worst thing Robert Holmes ever wrote, and is my least favourite story of his by some way. I really don't like The Two Doctors but I'm prepared to accept it has some good points. The Sun Makers has precious few.
Season Fifteen is, overall, one of the odder Doctor Who seasons. Like many of the stories it contains, it might best be termed "neglected". This is maybe because it's very much a transitional period, with Hinchcliffe-type horror giving way too something more light-hearted; but it's not really until the following season that the show realised what the new direction was and regained any sort of identity. In a sense The Sunmakers might be termed the first "real" Williams-era story, with its OTT characters, jokes, and much-vaunted satire.
Quite what makes The Sun Makers a satire, though, I'm not sure. While the history of its inception is well-known, it doesn't really have any genuine points to make. The only thing it seems to say is that taxmen are greedy, and I wouldn't call this biting or intelligent. Holmes himself was quite open about the fact that, at this stage, he was running dry of Doctor Who ideas and it shows. This is essentially a by-numbers story of an oppressive regime defeated by the rebels, and just because we get some crap puns (Corridor P45! The Inner Retinue! Laugh? I thought I'd never start) we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that this story boasts precisely two spots of originality; the gloriously sadistic Collector and the nasty edge to the rebels, who seem even less likeable than the existing regime. If anyone can point out a genuine piece of satire, then I'll eat my hat.
Compare this to The Happiness Patrol and you'll see the difference. The Happiness Patrol is dripping with references to Tory Britain, both unsubtle (the Thatcher-a-like) and subtle (the Kandyman can be seen as a metaphor for capitalism, the power behind the throne killing people with sweetness). The Sunmakers has nothing like this at all, essentially because there's nothing wrong with taxing people, in fact it's a key part of social equality. I'd go so far as to say that Holmes isn't satirising the tax system at all, confusing the idea with a standard big-business plot. In fact, this is simply a common-or-garden adventure, no more a satire on tax than The Seeds of Doom is a satire on Day of the Triffids. Whatever references there are to reality, they're just nods to the story's inception.
So, examining it as an adventure, what do we have?
We have something very weak indeed. There are a lot of clever lines, not surprisingly, as Bob Holmes could write good lines in his sleep. But there is a dearth of what became the staple of Williams-era; good characters, imagination, and logical development.
The story's most memorable asset is the Collector, an obvious forerunner for the more impressive Sil. He may be quite a cartoonish villain, but his sadism is wonderful and he's well-played. His demise, though, is a fine example of the story getting wrapped up in its own supposed cleverness; the Doctor effectively destroys him by punching a few buttons, and frustratingly we never get to see his true form of a "poisonous fungus" - or, even more interestingly, a "bloodsucking leech". Perhaps this is some piece of satire I'm too stupid to get, but I doubt it. I call it smug and I call it lazy and I call it tired.
The Gatherer, meanwhile, sums up everything that's bad about this nonsense. Larger-than-life was the term used by Pennant Roberts. I would say "irritating" is closer to the mark. Not only does Richard Leech deliver all his lines in a silly voice, not only does he produce more ham than a pig on some serious steroids, not only does the costume department appear to be regressing to childhood, but the character as scripted is ridiculous. His motivations in taxing the citizens so zealously are unclear, as he doesn't have the Collector's sadistic edge, and is - after all - just another employee and gains nothing through imposing the Collector's will with extra zeal. There's nothing to cling onto in terms of character; he isn't a Scrooge-type miser, he doesn't lead a particularly extravagant lifestyle, nor does he seem to have any ambitions beyond remaining where he is now. The truth is that he's not a character at all, just a mouthpiece for some verbal cleverness, with endless obsequies and silly facial expressions. And, in true lazy-Doctor Who-scriptwriting fashion, he's also incompetent. None of his actions make sense; are we really supposed to believe that a man in his position would confront an angry mob on a rooftop, rather then send some minions?
(A conclusion that seems sadistic, and also conveys the impression that throwing people off rooftops is hilarious. Presumably Mary Whitehouse didn't mind because there's no blood, but it's a scene I really don't like.)
The rebels are more interesting; the early scenes with the Doctor have a real threat to them, particularly where they threaten Leela. It sets up an interesting conundrum; how to mobilise a bunch of thieves into creating a revolution. And then, in the most annoying fashion, Mandril (who has been generally unpleasant all along) suddenly changes his mind and agrees to help the Doctor. Even more improbably, all his cynical fellow-thieves go along with the idea. I can deal with many things, but characters blatantly changing their motivations halfway through a story is a bridge too far.
Following on from this is a facile revolution that seems to take place in five seconds flat. The only other real story strand is the sinister Correction Centre, which sounds wonderful but whose impact is almost completely negated by the realisation. We see precisely one room, and Tom Baker wears a silly thing on his head. Nothing more. So the slack is taken up with some hopeless set-pieces; the dreary steaming scene that goes on forever, the woeful chase sequences with that silly go-kart thing, painfully bad scenes with that guy the Doctor meets in the Correction Centre, and more laboured comedy.
True, I've neglected some good bits. The third episode cliffhanger is quite effective, Tom Baker is on good form, and Louise Jameson shows some good comic timing. Cordo's march to suicide is a great sequence. But then, I also failed to mention the sheer hideous orangeness of the design (Doctor Who can be cheap, but does it have to be so damn ugly???), the uselessness of characters like Marn, the lack of care that results in the very effective location scenes failing to match anything created on studio, and a whole host of pointless interludes - the Doctor rigging the cameras, and all sorts of capture-escape-recapture sequences (such as the heavy emphasis in Part Two given to Leela's mission to save the Doctor from someone or other, when he's already escaped. And why does Cordo have to refer to everyone as "brother"? Is it really necessary to be that unsubtle?
There is a get-out clause that can be used; that hey, it's not supposed to be taken seriously. It seems that only Williams-era stuff can use this defence, as I've no doubt that if Sylvester McCoy starred in this story it would attract a whole host of diatribes even more rabid than this one. Well I'm a card-carrying Williams-era lover, and I don't buy that. The question here is the Williams-era and its use of humour. My favourite stories of the era (The Ribos Operation, The Pirate Planet, City of Death, even The Androids of Tara and The Horns of Nimon) all have serious scenes and usually a serious subtext too. When Williams-era stuff is at the top of its game, the humour reinforces the ideas, the characters and the drama.
The Sun Makers is one of those stories that uses humour as an excuse, which is a trap it fell into on occasion. Sometimes it's an excuse for glossing over plot points (a la The Stones of Blood), but more often it's an excuse for the tiredness of the original material, a kind of theory that "you can't say it's rubbish, because we already know and we said so in the story itself!" The Creature From The Pit does this too; and I'm horrified to hear that cheap dull little escapade is being partly re-evaluated after its release on video.
This story is very smug and self-satisfied, but it has no heart at all. It's a pointless exercise in bashing out four episodes, and tries to excuse its own crapness with some knowing winks to the audience. And yes, I think that Doctor Who has a responsibility to try and do more. This isn't a heroic failure, as Paradise Towers is; it's a reprehensible example of the series treading water, and should have been exposed as such long ago.
Absolutely awful. If you've not seen it yet, count your blessings.
And I got through the whole review without calling it "taxing"! Oh, except for just then... oh well, never mind.
And Now, A Rebuttal by Matthew Harris 9/9/02
Right, Morris. You and me, outside, NOW!
Usually it's impossible to disagree with our own Mr Intellectual. Whether or not you did beforehand (I actually quite liked Vengeance On Varos, which made his review even more irritating). Just three times, in fact, have I ever actually shaken my head in disbelief at what he says. Scream (overanalysis, I feel), Buffy (mean-spirited? Mean-spirited?). And now this. The Sunmakers. I'm scratching my head, but I can't fathom out what his problem is. And it makes me very angry to see him warning people off it. I warn you now, I'm trying to keep within Smith? and co's laws of congeniality, but oooh... it's hard.
Right. To make it easier, I'll address Mr Morris directly from now on. For a start, you're right about one thing: the reason it's not reviled is because Bob wrote it. For Bob is the stamp of quality (Power of Kroll notwithstanding). Even Mysterious Planet was quite handy. Calling it the worst thing he ever wrote is almost a compliment of sorts (like saying Scar Tissue is the worst song on RHCP's Californication), except when you remember the aforementioned polystyrene-green-paint-and-atrocious-acting shenanigans.
Another thing you're right about: the satire. No, it's not very satirical. It's more a piss-take, since that's what Bob was best at. And anyway, it's not about tax so much as bureaucracy for the most part. I think. Anyway, it's funny. You want serious satire, watch Network, or Being There, or if it's Who you're after, The Happiness Patrol. I'll stick with my fun-poke for now.
That's pretty much it as far as rightness goes, at least with the negatives. You next complain, bizarrely, about the fact that we don't see the Collector's (who is brilliant) true form. That's because this is Doctor Who. Talmar to a toffee (a phrase I picked up from The Sunmakers and now use in everyday language, like a total arse) if we did see him, you'd now be complaining about his appearance. "Sea Kale with eyes" is how the Doctor described him. Can you imagine how ridiculous that would look? I'm wincing as I type.
I also don't get the criticisms of Hade. "Richard Leech delivers all his lines in a silly voice," well, that's the point. "He produces more ham than a pig on some serious steroids," again, that's the point. "The costume department appears to be regressing to childhood,"... erm, once more, the point... "the character as scripted is ridiculous,"... I see a pattern emerging. He's a ridiculous, obsequious, crawling, smug, ham-fisted man. He's a ponce, quite frankly. As such, he's acted as a ponce. "His motivations in taxing the citizens so zealously are unclear,"... they're not his motivations, they're the Company's. And, as far as he's concerned, the Company is great, and, I expect, fab, because they let him lead what really is a particularly extravagant lifestyle, at least as far as this society is concerned. He gets raspberry leaves and everything!
Take your point on the rooftop. It's not nice. Uncle Terrance offered some compensation in the novelisation by having them realise they'd gone too far, but still, it's not right. But asking why he didn't send some minions is a silly question. He didn't have any minions left, they'd all joined the revolution by this late stage. Even Marn had joined in by now (I think).
The rebels are a little two-dimensional, it's true, but no more, and considerably less, than 1001 other examples in the series history. Likewise, there's nothing much wrong with the silly go-kart thing, either. Or the sets. Or any of the look and feel of the thing. I've said it before and I'll say it again: this is Doctor Who, where ugly and cheap go hand in hand, and indeed are close and trusted friends. It is not Industrial Light and Magic, it's the BBC Visual Effects Department. It's not CGI, it's MFI. If you're lucky. Come on, you let off Warriors of the Deep, saying most of its faults were superficial. If you can get over the Myrka, you can get over this? Surely? Please? I'd get down on bended knee, but then I'd look a prat. Also you can't see me.
Pennant "Two Surnames" Roberts does a good job as director, but then, this is his kind of thing. Fast, not very thoughtful, and loads of set pieces to sink his teeth into - unlike Warriors, where he seemed lost with the slow pace and the shiny sets. But here he's happy enough. For example? The three cliffhangers are pretty damn good, and there's Cordo's suicide march. Not to mention that great bit late on where the angry Collector spins around and around and around in his chair, and irritation. It's funny. It's a funny story. You see, Mr Morris, you see... you're... you're really not supposed to take it seriously. Nor are you supposed to take the fact that you're not supposed to take it seriously seriously. If you can follow that. It can just be funny, can't it? Can't it just be funny? And non-serious?
Okay, it's not City of Death, but it's not Delta and the Bannermen either (if ever any episode did use humour as an excuse... and it's not even humourous in the first place. Can someone explain what's funny about the totally pointless massacre of a totally innocent coach party?). A lot of the humour is obvious ("Ah, Rubeus Idaeus!" "No, Raspberry Leaves") but then there's Hade's addressing the Collector, via Bob's Thesaurus. A new synonym for "bigness" each time. "Your Voluminousness", "Your Hugeness", "Your Enormity", "Your Amplification", "Your Supernal Eminence". I don't even know what that last one means, but it's great. Ooh, and that bit where he screams in genuine pain after being told that the Doctor's reward will come from his purse. Incidentally, top tip: hunt the novelisation down as a complement to the story. Uncle Terrance does a good job of amplifying the humour onto the printed page.
It's not great, however: the ambivalence of the rebels is a teensy bit unbelievable, a lot of the acting grates (the wonderful John Woolf an honourable exception), some plot points are glossed over at times (like the drug in the air, which is mentioned several times as though you were supposed to know absolutely everything about it from the year dot) and people like Goudry are useless. Moreover, it just doesn't feel like the complete experience for some reason. And there is a very great danger that you will hate it, as Mike Morris seems to (unaccountably, but still...), or at least think it to be over-jokey. Which is fair enough, but a matter of taste.
But still, it's good. Not at all smug, or self-satisfied, just entertaining, and delighting in its ability to do so. Please, please don't count your blessings if you haven't seen it. It's not to everyone's taste, but you never know till you try. So go on. Have a look. Then decide whether or not you think it's great. With confidence.
Clever, but very dated by Tim Roll-Pickering 1/10/02
First shown at a time when Britain was paralysed by high taxes and heading towards a severe period of trade union militancy, The Sun Makers is a very strong political allegory for its day, but like a number of other stories it can lose something when viewed today in a very different world. Nowadays it is the corporation side of 'The Company' that is more likely to be satirised and stand out, but this element of exploitation is not played upon as fully as it could be. Nevertheless Robert Holmes succeeds in offering a vision of a society that is in many ways very similar to that seen at the start of Blake's 7 (which debuted on screen barely two weeks after this story finished its original transmission) - and this story even has Blake's 7 regular Michael Keating (Vila) in it! We see a vision of humanity's future where the mass of the people operate in a drug induced environment, serving a corrupt and technologically advanced elite, but an underground resistance movement is growing and beginning to threaten the very future of the society.
Holmes' script may share many elements with the opening episode of Blake's 7 but it also shows many original points of its own. The story's roots as a satire on bureaucracy and the Inland Revenue (the British government department responsible for tax collection for international readers) are all too clear but the story works. The Doctor's role as curious visitor turned instigator of rebellion is markedly clear in this story after some time when this element of the character has been in abeyance, whilst the story follows a strong internal logic of its own. Less successful is Holmes' use of K9, treating the character as little more than a mobile stun gun. The characterisation and acting in this story is mixed, from Gatherer Hade who is brought to life by a strong and pompous performance by Richard Leech to Cordo who is played by Roy Macredy for most of the story as though he truly is paralysed by the drugs in the atmosphere. Like all the other actors playing rebels, as well as many extras, he seems to go high on something in Part Four as the rebellion takes off. The Collector is a marvellous creation, vividly brought to life by both Colin McCormack's performance and some good co-ordination between costume, make-up and design, and truly does give the impression of being a soulless number cruncher.
Productionwise this story has had some sensible allocation of resources and use of location filming to cover up any weaknesses caused by the budget, but it is unable to reach the heights of production values achieved by earlier tales. Pennant Roberts' direction is competent but does not quite succeed in making the story really stand out. Although the script is good, some of the impact has been lost by time and so consequently this is one story that, more than most, truly belongs to the time it was originally transmitted. 6/10
If You Take A Walk, I'll Tax Your Feet by Jason Cook 20/2/03
My initial response to The Sunmakers, upon watching the first episode or so, was that it's not so bad. It's no classic in my estimation, but it has a number of decent moments, notably when Leela asks everyone in the underground to accompany her and try to rescue the Doctor, and only Cordo goes despite being frightened -- "Cordo, you're the bravest man here." The Gatherer is terrific and the Collector is richly bizarre, the latter's voice oddly reminding me of Beldar Conehead or Andy Kaufman's Foreign Man/Latka character.
To me there are only a few moments in the first half that are over the top with regards to the tax satire thing -- the oft-quoted "Everyone runs from the taxman," as well as "It always costs more than they tell ya!" or something to that effect. (Holmes saved the big economic wrap-up for episode 4, it seems.) That bit with the guard in episode 2 is pretty jarring though -- "Perhaps he was deaf." No remorse from the Doctor, just because the guard works for The Enemy. Aside from that bit of poor taste and unnecessary harshness I don't really have any complaints with the first two episodes.
The third episode more or less continues in the same vein for me, and I really like the scene between the Doctor and the Collector (I think it was in the third? well anyway...), where the Doctor pretends to be on his side and then suddenly growls his disgust (I think he calls him a worm or snake or something equally low). Is it my imagination, or at one point in this story does Hade refer to the Collector as "Sagacity," a la Trial? His increasingly offensive terms of reverence ("Your Grossness," for instance) are very entertaining, and I'll bet Holmes had a lot of fun writing them in.
One bit in particular that I liked about the fourth episode was when the Doctor said, "Oh, wake up!" to the Collector and the guard comes out of the hypnotic sleep the Doctor put him into earlier. "What did I say?" In general, though, this last part didn't sit as well with me. There was something very disturbing about seeing the rebels throw Gatherer Hade straight over the edge like that -- almost sends a message that it's okay to just rise up and kill your oppressors if you get the chance. It also seemed strange to me that the Doctor laughed as the Collector began to melt, but then someone online pointed out to me that the Collector didn't die; he simply was reverting to his natural form. So it's more a triumphant laugh than a malicious one in a sense. All the economic talk in the last few minutes did shut me off a bit though; probably overkill there.
Okay, so this is a mixed bag for me, all in all. I'd probably give it about a 35/50: lots of good moments, especially early on, but also some "off" scenes.
Comedy/drama... by Joe Ford 20/10/03
For a good while this story held its head high, its reputation was untarnished. Everybody knew it had a tight script, sterile but effective direction, top class performances and an unusually (for the time, following the goth horror of the Hinchliffe years) fun atmosphere. Plus it has a point, something Pertwee fans were more than used to. Yes it would appear the story was something very special indeed... on a recent video release SFX gave it ***** out ***** claiming Tom Baker's performance is just the icing on the cake, TV Zone scored it 9/10 and lots of reviews on the Ratings Guide seemed to follow suit.
But alas this good fortune could not last because even The Sun Makers has fallen foul of that dreaded fate... re-evaluation. The Vanessa Bishops and Mike Morrises crawled out of the woodwork and actively tore the episodes to pieces. So passionate were their reviews I was forced to return to my VHS copy and see if I had been horribly wrong all these years...
To my surprise I found myself enjoying it even more than usual. In fact after my late night Who and wine session last week I can proudly admit that this story remains one of the most re-watchable stories ever. I flew through the episodes, not even looking at the clock and was shocked (and disappointed) that it was over as soon as it was.
It was priceless, four episodes of classic Who moments.
Ms Bishop claimed in Doctor Who Magazine that this story is an uneasy mix of the deadly serious tone of the Hinchliffe era and the high farce of the later Williams stories. In some ways she is right, the story does utilize both tones but it does so with such class it is impossible to dismiss. Uneasy? What was uneasy about it? The jokes were funny and mercifully subtle and the quieter moments were appropriately acted with care. In terms of storytelling alone this story must rank as the best of the season, if not the entire Williams era. It manages to be a story about one man redeeming himself and becoming a hero (Cordo), a nasty capitalist alien race who are extorting the human race (the Usurians), a brilliantly done comedy at the taxman's expense, a conspiracy thriller (the Gatherer and his increasingly wild theories), a study of Leela as a companion and a good versus evil story where the subjugated slaves successfully overthrow the nasties. It is plotted to the hilt so that there is a surprise every five minutes or so (Cordo's suicide! Run Doctor it's the Gatherer! Six suns! The Doctor gassed! Leela threatened!) and the dialogue is as sharp as the show ever got ("Perhaps everyone runs from the taxman?"). It is certainly one of Robert Holmes' greatest achievements and those of you familiar with how good this man's work could be you will realize how powerful that statement is.
Oddly enough though it is not the comedy that impresses me the most (although it is majestic) but the serious, more thoughtful moments. There are quite a few of them scattered through the story and because of the overtly comical nature they hit the spot much more effectively than they would have say a year or so before. Cordo's attempted suicide is strong stuff for Doctor Who, taking the average man and showing just how far he will go if pushed. It is shockingly real and Leela's pained reaction "Don't jump! Please don't jump!" feels very natural. Next up is the astounding sequence where Leela attempts to coerce the rebel scum into mounting a rescue for the Doctor. Brilliant not only because the actors all bounce of each other superbly (because they do) but because it demonstrates Holmes' expert handling of Leela's character too. Her dialogue is phenomenal and Louise Jameson glows on screen. "You? You have nothing Mandrel. No pride. No manhood. Even animals protect their own! You say to me you want to live? Well I say this to you! If you lie skulking in this black pit while the Doctor dies than you shall live! But without honour!" Simply spellbinding. The scene is topped with the perfectly done "Cordo you are the bravest man here."
There is so much to admire in the way that Holmes writes his comedy I cannot fathom why people have a problem with it! He doesn't just write pathetic farce or slapstick but genuinely clever and thought out witty dialogue. The story is loaded with the same charm that boosted Carnival of Monsters before it. The digs at the tax system are the most obvious offenders being naked in their arrogance... P45, the inner retinue, consume card, "the Gatherer takes but he doesn't give!", the strange credit card design of the consoles... but I prefer the character stuff. The Gatherer works because he is clearly a pathetic little man who has risen to a position of power in a corrupt system... Holmes writes him as a melodramatic buffoon who get everything wrong. His constant exclamation of his underlings name "Marn!" is very funny but also goes to show he likes there to be a scapegoat there in case anything does go wrong. His overblown theories of the Doctor's schemes are all the more funny when he is finally proven right! He struts about in his velvet robes and sucks up to the boss disgustingly, it is a brilliantly fitting end when he is tossed off a building by the uprising rebels. A pathetic, embarrassing end for a pathetic, embarrassing character. Albeit one that is real fun to watch.
Holmes writes the Collector like any power mad dictator, torturing his victims, enslaving the population until the resources run out and a villain with a grand scheme and a contingency plan (the killer rain) but underneath it all he is another weak, feeble creature. "If you're going to hurt me as you can see I'm unarmed" he says to the Doctor with his most innocent face. He too suffers an undignified defeat, screaming and sulking as he transforms back into his weed form and slinks off down the toilet bowl. The great joy about this character (aside from the marvellous performance) is his desires are borne from money not conquest, it's a greed that's close our hearts and that makes him a little bit scarier. His excitable pleasure as Leela is rolled into the steamer is one of the story's highlights.
The realistic, sterile atmosphere provided by director Pennant Roberts is perfect for the story. For once a story feels genuinely unique, unlike Caves of Androzani or Pyramids of Mars this is a story that was never copied ad nausuem and stands alone. People scoff the minimalist set design but it just looks so striking, the gritty, industrial location work mirroring the stark, empty corridors perfectly. The story has a definitive feel, it's a very human story and the look of the clinical design helps to achieve that. There is a brilliant sequence at the end of episode two, a mixture of stunning camerawork and great music... the camera slides around the corner to where Leela, Cordo and Bisham are hiding and as they attempt to withdraw a car enters the corridor and advances on them... just watch all the different camera angles, how Roberts tells the stories with the pictures when the words are not there. Tossing the Gatherer over the building also looks gorgeous, an immensely satisfying moment. It boggles the mind that this is the same director that would later sabotage Warriors of the Deep and Timelash during the JNT era.
Isn't Tom Baker just the best? He whizzes through this story at his most hyper active and switches on the comedy and drama just like (clicks fingers) that. There is not a single line where he falters, he bursts into every scene with a grin on his face and succeeds in dominating the story. Some scenes ("Don't leave mine in too long it goes frizzy!", "It also eliminates freedom", "You blood sucking leech!" ) are seminal Baker and he has finally accepted that the show is all about him and makes sure he is the one we all watch. Plus it is the first time he really gets to play with K.9 and their chemistry is terrific.
Strong characterization, excellent filming, actors who are committed to their performances and an upbeat ending... nope I cannot see much wrong with this at all. Holmes has written four episodes of quality Who (well that's a given), even when he doesn't have any monsters to impress me with he still understands what I want to see.
Plus y'know I've always found Cordo kinda cute in a loser kind of way...
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 6/1/04
The Sunmakers works on two levels, both as a satire and a good piece of drama. While some of the inland revenue jokes might be lost on some viewers for the most part they are relatively subtle and don`t detract from the story. The highlights as you might expect from Robert Holmes come in the form of the characters. Roy Macready is excellent as the oppressed Cordo and similarly the Collector (wonderfully played by Henry Woolf) who takes great delight in his work and Gatherer Hade turn out to be two of the most memorable characters from the season. The Doctor and Leela are on fine form and K-9 is given more to do and the chance to shine. Unfortunately there are some downsides to the story: the costumes are nothing special and there is a lot of running up and down corridors. This aside, The Sunmakers is still enjoyable and should be viewed for what it is; one of the better examples of Doctor Who from season 15.
"Lawyers, Guns and Money" by Thomas Cookson 14/6/16
I'd long thought of The Sun Makers as Season 15's last true great and the one Season 15 story aside from Horror of Fang Rock that one is compelled to treat as a keeper after all.
Unfortunately, upon revisitation, it proved to be a poorer story than I remembered.
Tom Baker may be the most beloved of classic Doctors, but frankly only one episode into this I was beginning to hate him. Yes, in Robert Holmes' writing, the Doctor being sometimes impatient and irritable is what gives him shades of character and keeps him from being just a bland, faultless good guy. Unfortunately, in the early parts of this story, the Doctor is so relentlessly irritable, patronizing and dismissive towards Leela that it becomes just unpleasant and tedious and makes the Doctor someone I really wouldn't want to travel with.
One of the biggest problems with this serial is how flatly directed it is. Pennant Roberts later directed the disastrous Warriors of the Deep and Timelash; compared to them, this story looks almost competent. But Roberts' directing here is still weak. The featureless corridor sets are filmed blandly. Cordo's awaiting his meeting with Gatherer Hade doesn't build up any sense of dread. The meeting is filmed in wide shot, never really getting up close and personal or grappling with Cordo's internal turmoil as a condemned man, so we never really make any emotional connection with him, and we never really see the moment he decides to end it all. Even his attempted suicide is directed limply and distantly before the Doctor reaches him and saves him, leaving the entire energy and suspense of the moment belated.
Perhaps the actor is to blame as well, but Cordo feels like a very weak, uninteresting cipher. Sure, he's clearly an underdog that we're inclined to pity, but frankly once we meet the other rebels he quickly disappears blandly into the crowd. Leela's apparent crush on him is quite sweet, but it sadly exposes how Louise Jameson is having to do all the hard work for two in terms of creating chemistry with him.
As part one goes on, it becomes a less-appealing viewing experience. The setting looks ugly, gloomy and featureless and doesn't inspire the viewer to want to stick around or explore this world. When we fall into the rebels' lair, the story immediately becomes overpopulated by unsympathetic, mean-spirited characters, and we're set up for the stakes of the cliffhanger, where the Doctor must run these scummy people an errand and ends up the victim of a gas ambush.
It's a weak cliffhanger. By now, we've seen the Fourth Doctor survive Sutekh's mind control, strangulation, infection and electrocution. By comparison, making a dramatic point of him succumbing to knockout gas is about as suspenseful as showing him being wounded by a pea shooter.
Yes, there's the threat to Leela's life if the Doctor doesn't return, but by now Leela's also clearly indestructible. In fact, her going along with the Doctor's surrender to these outlaws just rings false to her character, as any minute you just expect her to single-handedly break all their legs and leave, so the story is disappointing expectations for the sake of stalling. Leela just doesn't work as hostage collateral. She's too adept at rescuing herself.
Sometimes, when revisiting neglected classic serials, I'll genuinely feel like I'm watching as a first-time viewer, not quite sure how the heroes will get out of each predicament. Unfortunately here, K9 making his long way from the TARDIS (somehow without anyone impeding his way) into the convenient position he's needed to help her just lowers the stakes and deflates my anticipation. I wish he'd been killed off in his debut.
So after just watching episode one, I find myself with little or no desire to sit through the rest.
Then, in part two, it quickly got better, with several outstanding scenes coming swiftly after one another. Tom departs the correctional facility with perhaps the funniest jelly babies gag in the show. His meeting with Hade sees the actors play beautifully off each other, and sadly all too briefly. Leela's rant at the rebels for their cowardice and how survival isn't worth living without pride or meaning is a tour de force, and one that really should've been yelled at everyone who thought Warriors of the Deep was worth writing or commissioning, being an effective, thorough trashing of Warriors' message of how we should supposedly give up our lives for the preservation of our killers, rather than fight for our dignity.
In fact, this second episode and episode three's opening five minutes belong entirely to Leela, confirming her as a protagonist in her own right. She's cunning, unyielding, a natural leader, and you can tell Jameson really relishes Leela's moments of triumph. As such, her battle on the security buggy manages to be more exhilarating than it really has any right to be.
The directing in part two was still rather poor with the cutting from one scene to another and the opening framing of each being particularly haphazard. However, the directing begins to feel more engaged here, and even the flatter scenes are made up for by their content being so gratifyingly punk, at times seeming straight out of the Anarchist's Cookbook.
But I'm unable to ignore Mike Morris' condemnation of the story as being an ignorant demonization of the tax system and its enforcers that fails to take into account how taxes facilitate redistribution of wealth, fund emergency services, social security and the benefits system.
Unfortunately, I find that now to be an outdated assertion. I cannot entertain the idea that the bedroom tax has any part to play in social equality, especially as we now live in a time when unemployed and disabled people on benefits are being literally sanctioned to death and our NHS looks to be soon sold down the river. Taxation is not helping the little people, it's just lining the pockets of bloodsucking sadistic Tories and funding the militarising of our police to crush dissent.
Mike also had moral objections to how this story glorifies bloody revolution and public lynchings, and he cited this as emblematic of a story that puts forth an overriding camp sensibility that covers it from even having to be about morality and the things that mattered about the series.
What I don't understand is that Mike seems to think the point of the Doctor's morality and intelligence is so that Warriors of the Deep can specifically prove his morality worthless and make the Doctor look like an idiot liability who'll get you all killed by his lunatic convictions. So The Sun Makers doesn't show the worth of the Doctor's morality in the way that Warriors of the Deep somehow does by thoroughly demonstrating his morality's utter worthlessness?
Well, there are different forms of telling a morality tale and teaching a moral lesson, and this retributive ending falls validly into being about how someone's accumulated cruelty and indifference to the masses inevitably bred too much bad karma that eventually bites them back.
Again, I wonder how the 'morality' of Warriors of the Deep is better, whereby the Sea Base crew have done nothing to wrong the Silurians and are forbidden by the Doctor from unleashing their justice upon their murderous invaders or administering the lethal force that the Silurians have provoked and deserved. Where the Doctor does everything to prevent karmic justice from playing out. Where his compassion for the Silurians is never rewarded, yet his treachery toward humanity and his callous willingness to let the humans die is never something he's punished for either.
However, there's a nagging issue that holds The Sun Makers back from being Holmes' best. In Holmes' best scripts, everything usually feels well-balanced between the heroes and villains, with both being equally well-defined and well-matched, as were Jek and Morgus and the double teams of Jago and Litefoot versus Chang and Greel.
Here Hade and the Collector are overindulged by Holmes' writing and defined in the kind of well-read, verbose connoisseur terms that make them clearly Holmes's kin. Conversely, the rebels are just all muscle and exposition, which overall leaves the story feeling uneven, and contributes to a sense of the story feeling almost half-finished. As does the lax direction, especially concerning the 'steaming' cliffhanger, where the camera completely neglects to show the Doctor or his position whilst he's trying to reach Leela.
One can dismiss this as Holmes' 90-minute hissy fit over his first-world problems. Yet it also harks back to a reassuring time before the Left began continually committing political suicide. A notion that anyone could join this all-inclusive call to revolution without being stigmatized for their 'privilege'. The hopeful idea that even the media could be used as a revolutionary tool (which recurs in audios like Live 34, Natural History of Fear, Dalek Empire and Masters of War), and that even nasty pieces of work like Mandrel would become better, more altruistic people in this spirit of freedom and revolution, and the elimination of want or confinement.
One almost feels sad seeing the Doctor being groomed into the kind of class warrior the 80's needed, only for JNT to chuck all that good work in the bin. But I can't feel too bitter. The Sun Makers feels self-assured in its short-lived new direction for the show as political satire and satisfies enough to not leave the audience lamenting what more could've been of this. But, for all that, the story just feels too much like an exercise in wish fulfillment, which makes it almost a precursor to the worst, most apocryphal sensibilities of the New Series.
Robert Holmes is writing the people running the tax system as being as small, cowardly and pathetic as he sees them, and envisions a society that only fears these rulers because of the influence of anxiety-inducing gasses. It's all set up so our heroes can turn their influence off and reduce their pathetic enemies to a pitiful, outnumbered state in 75 minutes, without any casualties on their side or any set-backs or defeats. The Doctor, Leela and K9 are already invincible whilst the foes are just stick figures who end up quickly outnumbered, so how can the good guys lose?
Confused Matthew once criticized the episodic nature of the Star Trek Next Generation films and their failure to understand the peaks and valleys a cinema film has to hit. Likewise, there's reasons this story doesn't belong in the pantheon of Holmes' best like Pyramids of Mars, Deadly Assassin and The Talons of Weng-Chiang and why it's less satisfying to watch. Because those stories have their valleys and peaks. Moments where our heroes seem beaten and the enemy untouchable, which makes the moments of triumph matter all the more. This doesn't. The plot feels designed to be resolved in 90 minutes rather than sustain and hold the fort for that long.
If Robocop was just the portions of the film where he's invincible and keeps beating bad guys, it'd just be wish fulfillment and ultimately boring. It's the moment he suffers the Achilles heel of Directive 4 and then is damaged seemingly beyond recovery that the story needs for it to be compelling to the audience as they see he is vulnerable and might lose now.
Doctor Who's at its best when premature victories are dashed and devastated. When the Navy destroys the chance for peace with the Sea Devils, or Gharman's men realize their meeting with Davros was a trap. Comparatively, this just has too few or no valleys or low points to truly soar the high points as it could've done.
Couple that with Hade's execution and an ending where Doctor and Leela tower over the dwarfish, powerless Collector, verbally and physically thrashing him down to size, and ultimately the opposition having been rendered so much lesser by Holmes' writing, means that our heroes come off here as plain bullies.